Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Dueling Dealings


The Mets may have, perhaps, filled a major void at Second Base with their acquisition of Luis Castillo late Monday night as the Trade Deadline looms on Tuesday Afternoon. With Jose Valentin most likely done for the season and Ruben Gotay forced unsuitably into everyday play, the Mets were certainly in need of someone who could consistently get on base, use their speed and score runs in front of Beltran, Wright and Delgado. With few attractive options available, Castillo's the guy. We remember Castillo as the major pain in the ass from Florida's 2003 Championship team, leading off, bunting, slapping and running and generally creating problems for the opposition.

On the other hand, Castillo isn't quite the same player he was back in '03. He's a little older now, 31, and he's begun to lose a step or two. His Steal totals have steadily declined from his career high of 48 in 2002 to 9 this season. He's never been a power threat at all. But his defense has always been solid. And he has proven himself to be a solid everyday player over the course of his career, as evidenced by a .294 career Batting Average and a .368 OBP. This won't be a long term solution, and it won't solve all of the team's problems. But the Mets are built to win in 2007, and Castillo is certainly capable of helping the cause.

It behooves the Mets to solve their problems sooner rather than later, especially with the Braves set to deal for Texas's Mark Teixeira. Adding Tex to an already potent Atlanta lineup serves to make them all the more of a problem for the Mets down the stretch. The Mets are arguably still in need of one more large power threat in their lineup, preferably in one of the corner Outfield spots. Jermaine Dye's name had been bandied about, but that doesn't appear to be much of an attractive solution. It's certainly possible that if Reyes and Castillo serve to provide more RBI chances for the guys behind them, that the Mets could have solved their offensive woes in a more roundabout fashion. But that's not a guarantee, since Beltran, Wright and Delgado have all had maddeningly inconsistent seasons to this point, and have given us no reason to think this will change over the final two months of the season. It could end up that Lastings Milledge's strong play of late will earn him the starting job in Right, or he will simply bounce from Right to Left as often as possible, spelling Alou and Green.

Another arm in the bullpen would be rather helpful as well, and probably much moreso than another ridiculous aging veteran bat to bog down the Outfield, since that seems to be the lay of the land at this time.

But I'll say the same thing that I say at the trade deadline every year. Make the deals that need to be made. Just don't do anything stupid.

Mad Dog Russo on WFAN summed it up this afternoon (and I paraphrase): Whatever happens in the Regular season happens, but it's meaningless once the playoffs start. Any victory that the Mets have had this season that we thought would springboard them on a major hot streak has turned out to be a mirage.

With all that said, let's hope Castillo provides the spark in Milwaukee this evening, spurring Tom Glavine on to Win #300.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Ugly vs. Ugly


This was not the kind of weekend I'd hoped for.

With the miserable, rebuilding Nationals in town, the Mets pretty much played down to their level in four mostly forgettable games over three days, struggling to earn themselves a split against a team that, by all rights, they should have pummeled.

Although, as was the case in June, I am engulfed in work-related Theatrics (For those who don't know, M2M does trod the boards from time to time), and some late nights have reduced these games to a rumor level for me. But I know enough of what's going on (thanks to late night WFAN) and I'm not pleased with the recent results.

I was talking with a colleague the other day who I had not seen in some time, and he basically summed it all up rather quickly:

"The Mets are just there. They're not doing anything. They're just hanging around. They're just there."

They really are. The results of the weekend prove it. After looking bad in losing to Pittsburgh on Thursday, the Mets came out completely flat on Friday. Not even the return of Moises Alou could energize them as they were basically shut down by ex-farmhand (and the Great Hope of 2002) Mike Bacsik in a 6-2 loss.

Saturday, the Mets won the first game of the Abhorred Day-Night DH 3-1, basically behind the masterful efforts of El Duque and really in spite of another pitiful offensive performance, as they took another ragtag pitcher, Tim Redding, and made him look good for a while. The Nightcap saw Mike Pelfrey again muddle through another inconsistent outing before being bailed out by Delgado in the 6th, only to see Pedro Feliciano melt down in the 8th and some questionable moves by Willie came back to bite them in the ass in the end.

A word on the Anderson/Castro/Glavine fiasco: Although as with the rest of the games, I didn't see it progress, I can only imagine that Willie was trying to play some odd percentage game and gamble that Anderson would have come through against Ray King in the 7th, as opposed to having Castro pinch hit straight off since he was coming into the game for LoDuca anyway, which, as it turned out would have been the proper move, hindsight being 20/20. Instead, he hit Anderson there, lost him after one AB, and rather than having Castro bat again in the 9th, he was forced to Pinch-Hit Glavine since he was out of players. Again, this is a sensible move, but only if Milledge had reached to lead off the inning. And when he didn't, Willie had basically dug his own grave for the game. The strategy is evident and valid, and of course we know Willie will think outside the box. But this happened to be an instance where his plan backfired on all avenues and left everyone wondering what the hell he was exactly thinking about.

Leave it to John Maine to solve all the problems in Sunday's rain-shortened affair. Backed by nice days from Reyes, Wright and Castro, Maine threw an impressively effortless 62 pitches over his 5 shutout innings. Thank Heavens for that, since a poor effort would have meant a completely inexcusable 1-3 series as opposed to the barely acceptable series split the Mets were able to come away with.

Now, the creampuffs are done with. And a road trip that isn't going to be forgiving, beginning on Tuesday in Milwaukee against Mr. Twitches and Lil' Cecil, and continuing on to Chicago, always a fun place to visit (and let's remember what the Mets did when they sojourned to the Windy City last season).

Moves have been made to solidify the bench, with Beltran perhaps DL-bound, and LoDuca ailing. But they're not the kind of moves that are going to excite anyone. Gone is Jon Adkins after all of one outing with the Mets (and my guess is he won't be remembered fondly, if at all). Back for his third stint with the Mets in three seasons, the always annoying, prickly and hideous Mike DiFelice. Back for his Third stint with the Mets this season, the always annoying, wimpy and hideous David Newhan. Real impact moves to help out the team during a tough stretch. Can't wait to see them in action.

Oh boy. Here we go again...

Friday, July 27, 2007

Earthquake Glue

I'm going on vacation to San Francisco for a week (not like I've been tearing up the blogosphere around here lately anyway), so in the meantime you'll continue on in Mets2Moon's capable hands.

My flight's at 7:05 tomorrow morning, so I'll be trying to get to sleep right at the conclusion of tonight's game against the Nats (Bacsik v. Sosa! Cancel all your Friday night plans, kids!). I might even tune in to see if Alex Rodriguez finally hits his 493rd home run. Huh? Yeah, it's confusing, but due to the fact that the Yankees and Orioles are picking up where they left off in a rain-postponed game from June 28, if A-Rod homers tonight that will be dinger number 493, and every home run since then will move up one, so that his 499th, off Gil Meche, will become his 500th. So, depending on what happens tonight, A-Rod may actually have already hit his 500th home run, and I JUST BLEW YOUR FUCKING MIND.

Of course, no one actually cares about A-Rod's 500th home run. Not even this guy:
Have a great week, everyone. In the meantime, here's a little memento to remember me by:
Bobblebelly DollRodriguez Home Runs: Count Them Backward [New York Times]
"Bobble Belly" El Gaupo image via Minor Enterprise [Deadspin]

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Mayhem and Milestones


It was unfortunate that I was unable to use my ticket for Tuesday Night's game, missing the One-Man Wrecking Crew that is John Maine unleash a new wrinkle to his game plan.

He hits, too.

El Guapo kept me apprised of the happenings via text message, so I was aware of Maine's first career HR shortly after it happened, though I didn't see it until later. Maine's shocking display of power was certainly welcome, although it was his efforts on the mound that served to nail down the victory on Tuesday night.

Wednesday night saw more strong pitching efforts, and a standout offensive performance from LoDuca as Glavine's 6 innings were enough to secure his 299th victory.

Both games saw the Mets build up early leads and keep the Pirates mostly off balance for the duration of both games, and for once, we've been treated to a couple of drama-free, cruising victories against a team that the Mets should be beating soundly. But more welcome than that is the fact that these have been sound victories where the team has been both hitting and pitching well at the same time, something that has been lacking overall over the past 2 months.

I made a lot about this week's games last week, while the Mets were busy piddling away in San Diego. These are games the Mets need to win, and win soundly. Against the hapless Pirates, a team that boasts a few young, talented players in Jason Bay, Freddy Sanchez and Tom Gorzelanny, but little else exciting. Washington is in next, and they're currently getting their clocks cleaned in Philadelphia. Kicking off a week in which the key phrase for the Mets is "Smash the Flea with the Sledgehammer," the Mets have come out running, and can look for the sweep later this afternoon behind Oliver Perez, off his fine outing last weekend in LA, certainly with a chip on his shoulder against the team that prematurely gave him away last season.

Philly and Atlanta are beating up on bad teams this week, too. Let's keep the pace.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Goodbye, Mr. Chip


Sometimes, you just need a little luck.

Sometimes, the unexpected happens.

Sometimes, it's the little guys who come up big when it's needed most.

For the Mets on Sunday, it was a case of all 3 combining in a game where they trailed most of the way, but chipped away at a tenuous Dodgers lead, tied the game in the 9th and won it on the 10th on a hit from a guy who hadn't had a hit in 2 seasons.

It would be a gentleman by the unlikely name of Raymond Payne Ambres, "Chip," to most of us, a name synonymous with someone we don't like much around here, who would come up with said hit, a screecher under the glove of Nomar Garciaparra in the 10th inning on Sunday, chasing home Milledge with the game's winning run. Ambres would be collecting his first hit since October 2, 2005, as a member of the Kansas City Royals, a far cry from having been a #1 Draft Pick by the 1998 Florida Marlins. A long trip that saw him muddle through the Marlins system at a time when even an adequate outfielder would have made the club, through the Red Sox system, to Kansas City, and now to the Mets, where 2 months ago, I scoffed at the mere thought that he could have possibly been called up, let alone playing with the Mets, and yet here he is, in a spot where he finds himself in the thick of things, and comes up with the key hit.

There was another one of the Little Known guys playing a key role on Sunday. Yes, it was the return of Anderson Hernandez to the club, called up in Valentin's stead. A-Hern hadn't exactly been lighting it up in AAA, hitting .277 with 4 HRs, and although his sample size with the Mets has been brief, we know what to expect from him, and, well, we can't really expect too much. Some nice defense. That's about it.

But when last we saw A-Hern, he was standing on first in the 9th inning last October 19th, and here he was again, standing on first in the 9th inning, running for Delgado, advancing on a Wild Pitch from Broxton, moving to 3rd on a LoDuca ground out (the ever-popular Productive out) and dashing home when Matt Kemp (and not Shawn Kemp, as the update guy on WFAN has been calling him all night) dropped Green's fly ball, scoring the tying run and allowing Ambres to play his part one inning later.

Little guys doing little things to win games. Maybe Hernandez will struggle to bat his weight again. Maybe Ambres is sent back to AAA with Alou set to return on Tuesday and never heard from again. But they've done their parts, taken their names out of the agate type and made sure the Mets came out of LA with the solid 3-1 series victory, heading home for Pittsburgh and Washington in far better shape than when they left.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

One More Night In Hollywood...


With the Slugfest of Thursday Night secured away (and thank God for that), the Mets resumed normal operations on Friday evening, out in Chavez Ravine, with a sharp victory that was won on the merits of Jose Reyes' speed, Marlon Anderson's skill and, most importantly, Oliver Perez's left arm.

Ollie proved he was back from his ailing back, tossing 1-run ball into the 8th, allowing 6 hits and 3 walks mixed in with his 8 strikeouts. Joe Smith, who has been rather frustrating of late, didn't get the job done, but Feliciano and Wagner did as the Mets were able to cobble together a late rally to salt away a 4-1 victory and give the Mets two sorely needed victories over the Sad Dodgers.

The Mets won on Thursday by simply beating the Dodgers into submission, then holding them off as Glavine faltered and Heilman and Mota were shaky. Sele earned a much-deserved victory for his 3 emergency innings. On Friday, the Mets relied on the shaky LA middle relief, ripping into familiar face Roberto Hernandez in a lightning fast 3-run rally that lasted the course of 3 pitches.

First, it was Reyes, using his speed and nailing a double into the left field corner. Next, it was the recently reacquired Marlon Anderson laying down a picture perfect sacrifice bunt, which was subsequently thrown away by 'Berto, allowing Reyes to score. Then, it was Beltran icing it all by nailing a HR into the All-You-Can-Eat seats in RF. Just like that, a tense pitchers duel had swung decisively in the Mets favor, the kind of game that showcased the killer instinct of the club, and, more importantly, a game that the Mets had really been lacking in of late. With Atlanta having lost earlier in the evening, the Mets needed to capitalize on an opportunity that they hadn't capitalized on very much, and they did.


Lost in all the hubbub was the return to the Mets of Marlon Anderson, who had a rather successful stay with the Mets as the key lefty bat off the bench in the 2005 season. Anderson is, of course, remembered for a couple of HRs he'd hit, one with the Mets, and one against the Mets, but what we took away from his 2005 season (where he hit .264 with 7 HRs, but suffered when pressed into everyday play with injuries to Matsui and Mientkiewicz) was that he was a heady player who could come off the bench and provide some intangible, solid play as needed. Last season, the Mets went into the Playoffs with Endy Chavez in the key player off the bench role, but he was pressed into starting with Floyd's injury. This left the Mets with Michael Tucker as their key lefty bat. Now, with Anderson, the Mets could boast a bench of Chavez, Anderson and Milledge depending on who's starting or who needs to start, and provides depth that is much more dependable than guys like Tucker, Jose Offerman or Ricky Ledee are or could ever hope to be. And that's something that should bode well.

On the other side of this, there's the case of Jose Valentin, who suffered a fractured leg after fouling a pitch off it in the 4th inning on Friday night. Valentin is most likely done for the season now, and of course, you hate to see players go down, but as I had mentioned of Valentin a couple of weeks ago, he hasn't been anywhere near the player he had been expected to be. He hadn't hit much, if at all (.236 with 3 HRs), and his defense had been compromised by his freight train-sized knee brace. And the public sentiment was that he was basically stealing playing time from Gotay purely on reputation, even though Gotay was probably going to slump and come back to earth at some point. But now, the job is Gotay's, and Marlon has plenty of experience at 2B as it is, so it could conceivably be that the solution to this injury problem is already in place. I'm not saying that if a better option should present itself to the team at the imminently approaching trading deadline that the Mets shouldn't go for it. But what I am saying is that Valentin's injury could very likely solve more problems for the Mets than it creates.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Since No One Asked, Here's How I'd Fix ESPN

Will Leitch apparently caught some heat in the blogs recently (I say apparently, because I read Deadspin but not all the bloggins by the dozens out there) for getting a chance to tell Scott Van Pelt exactly how he'd change ESPN on Van Pelt's radio show and responding only with a few joke answers. Leitch was there to talk about sports bloggers and their relationship with the ESPN empire, why they, as Van Pelt put it, seem to think they'd be better off without it (radio clips available here from Awful Announcing). I think sports fans, never mind bloggers, watch tons and tons of ESPN because it's ESPN; it has all the highlights and news and a great many of the nationally televised games. We like watching ESPN, but we're keenly aware of its many failings, because how can we avoid them? Maybe Leitch could have thrown a few serious answers in there just to finally get them voiced on an ESPN property, in this case ESPN radio. I think we can all rattle off five or six things off the tops of our heads that would make the Worldwide Leader eminently more watchable. I know I can.

How I would fix ESPN:

Baseball Tonight: Rehire Harold Reynolds. Fire Steve Phillips (he'll be okay; he's been there). Keep John Kruk around for entertainment value but slash his airtime. More Peter Gammons and Buster Olney. And please, please, no more out of this guy:

SportsCenter: You know what? Keep the nicknames and catchphrases, even the terrible ones. Get rid of each and every contrived, gimmicky game and human interest spot. The Hot Seat, Who's Now?, My Wish, et al. If you do that, I'll forgive every other sin. I mean it.

Baseball broadcasts: Jon Miller and Joe Morgan. Where do I start? I'll say this: The two have a genuine chemistry together that makes them at least pleasant to listen to as a sort of white noise, if you're careful not to listen too closely to what they're actually saying. I respect that Morgan is old school, but why is he unwilling to take any other perspective seriously? Why is the way he and his team played the only right way to play baseball? Why doesn't he even bother to try to understand other smart baseball peoples' opinions, even if he still disagrees with them? Time for some new blood: Hire Gary Cohen away from SNY to do play by play and pair him with a rotating two- or three-man rotation of competent color guys who have different perspectives, whether that means old school, new school, no particular school, whatever. Al Leiter? Orel Hersheiser? I'd say Joe Girardi but he'll probably go back to managing sooner than later.

Basketball: Just don't even get me started. Just don't. Although here's a good teaching moment: The only good national broadcast of a sport that I watch (so we're talking about baseball, basketball, and the occasional tennis match) is TNT's basketball broadcast, from the studio show (Kenny, Ernie, and Charles) to the A-game (Marv Albert's) team to the B-game (Mike Breen's) team. There isn't a lot of dead weight anywhere to be found in TNT's broadcasts, unless Magic Johnson or Reggie Miller is involved. Let's just leave it at this: ESPN's basketball broadcasts are very nearly the polar opposite of TNT's. And they're the ones who are supposed to be the Worldwide Leader in Sports.

Pseudosports: I'm going to call NASCAR a pseudosport because it's my blog and I can say whatever the hell I want. Arena football? I don't expect a lot of arguments calling the AFL a pseudosport. Poker, too. Putting arena football on the news scroll and showing highlights on SportsCenter only reduces their credibility in the eyes of anyone who actually bothers to worry about ESPN's credibility. Anyway, they're only treating it like a real sport on their highlight shows because they have the broadcasts, which is pretty lame.

There's more. Much more. But I feel like that's a good, concrete list that I'll hold onto in case I ever find myself of the Scott Van Pelt show.

Since this is such a negatively toned piece, why not end on a positive note. I love Pardon the Interruption with Wilbon and Kornheiser. I actually like having morning radio guys Mike & Mike on ESPN2 when I'm getting ready for work in the morning (why? I don't know. They've grown on me, I guess). I like that they've let TrueHoop be itself even after acquiring it recently. And of course there's the aforementioned Gammons and Olney, as well as a handful of other magazine and web site columnists. And then of course there's Bill Simmons, who knows more hoops then most people who cover hoops (or at least as much) and who every sports blogger copies from.

Blah, Blah, Blah

Overheard tonight in Midtown, amidst the chaos of a steam pipe explosion in the near vicinity of (but fortunately not affecting) Ballclub HQ, Manhattan Bureau:

M2M's Doorman (a rabid and devout Mets fan): You know who's looking good? The Yankees.

M2M: Oh, sure. Beating Tampa Bay and Toronto is great.

I wish the Mets had the ability to beat up on teams like that. Winning 3 of 4 from Cincinnati is nice, and a good step in the right direction, but then, as Cincinnati went and swept Atlanta, the Mets muddled through three games in San Diego and their Dog Track, losing two of three and not looking especially sharp in the process. Not to damn it all; Tuesday night's win was probably the most complete victory we've seen out of the Mets in weeks. But the Mets looked simply lifeless against Wells on Monday, and Wednesday saw a clutch, game-tying, 3-run HR from David Wright gone for naught (and when he hit it, I was already planning my post praising Wright); the frenetic late comeback thwarted because Joe Smith failed to get out a .211 hitter.

Certainly, no harm, because Atlanta and Philadelphia continue to muddle along as well, but the Mets need to grab a toehold somehow and string a few victories together, because one of these teams has to get a clue at some point, right?

Right?

This stretch gets no easier for the Mets, who are now back, mysteriously, to Los Angeles, where they really looked great last month, coming in like a Mess and leaving like even more of a Mess, being swept and really humiliated in the process. Back then, I made some sort of thinly veiled effort back then to try to invoke past spirits to spur on the team. No such words can be used now. Just win a game. Hell, I'd be pleased with a split at this point. But this is a 4 game series and the Mets just have to show some life out there. The stretch against lowly Pittsburgh and Washington isn't until next week, but it would be nice to see the Mets act as if they were playing teams like that this week.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Congratulations, Keith Hernandez's Mustache

At some point during Friday night's loss to the Reds, Shea's video screen cut to a shot of Gary Cohen in the booth wearing a fake mustache followed by similar shots of several SNY cameramen wearing similar 'staches. Later, one of the many clap-clap-clap "Let's go Mets!" chants was accompanied by a loop of cartoon Gary and Ron slapping the 'stache off of Keith's face from that weirdest of the SNY commercials. What the hell was going on? Mets2Moon and I were stumped and too grumpy with the proceedings of the game to give it much thought. The next morning, I remembered: Newsday has been running a bracket contest about the best mustaches in New York sports history. The finalists were Keith and Don Mattingly. Keith must have won, explaining the 'stache-fest at Shea. Sure enough, he did.

Donny Baseball's soup strainer is gone now, and Keith's benefits from performance enhancing substances (Just for Men), but that is a solid final round.

We already know quite a bit about Keith's mustache's résumé: the .296 career average, 11 straight Gold Gloves, two rings, two Silver Sluggers, sharing the 1979 NL MVP with Willie Stargell, and making out with Elaine Benes. But there's a lot of Keith's mustache I bet you didn't know:
  • Finished third in the 1994 New York City mayoral election with 12% of the vote
  • Made a killing in dot com stocks; got out before the bubble burst
  • Completed the Boston Marathon in 3:06:32
  • Authored bestselling memoir, The Whiskers of My Discontent
  • An ace at sodoku
Yes, friends, that is indeed an impressive mustache.

(And of course, happy Ralph Kiner Day, everyone.)

Mustache Madness - Great Mustaches in New York sports [Newsday]

To Ride, or Not To Ride. That is the Question.



vs.


On a night at Shea where the only redeeming features gained from the night's affair were the Endy Chavez Bobblehead, and the tons of free Korean junk piled on us in celebration of Korean Night at Shea (El Guapo was particularly fond of the Shrimp Fries, I came away with a ton of Post-it Notes and Flags courtesy of Nong Shim America), an interesting predicament came about as we departed the stadium and set off for home.

Express or Local?

After my post yesterday, lauding the MTA for finally adding Express service back into Manhattan following games, we were both excited by the prospect of a quick trip home, for me, back to Ballclub HQ, Manhattan, for The Guap, Ballclub HQ, Brooklyn. We expected some crowds, since, of course, the thrill of Bobbleheads and salty snack food would bring out anyone, and 51,305 were indeed at the Stadium. So, after the game, we headed out, through the crowds, over the ramp, and proceeded to the entrance to the Express Platform.

(For those unfamiliar with the configuration of the Shea Stadium Subway station, I direct you here, to David Pirmann's fine site, NYCSubway.org)

We were greeted by an endless mass of people, standing, waiting, clamoring to get up to the turnstyles. Not a soul was moving.

El Guapo looks at me, and poses a most interesting theory.

"You know, this could work out in a backwards fashion," he says, "The Express will be crowded and unbearable, but the Local is probably going to be empty. It's a question of speed vs. comfort."

Being that it was a Friday night, and being that we both preferred to sit on an empty train, that may have been a bit slower, rather than be jammed into a faster train, we opted instead for the Local. After all that wait, and all the Hullabaloo over the Express, we were still on the Local.

And it turned out to be the best call of the night.

Arriving on the Local platform, we saw a mostly empty Express train pulling out of the station. Mostly empty, most likely because the mosh pit forming outside the fare control was where the crowds were. Another Express rolled in, and sat in the station, doors ajar, as the masses slowly tricked up the stairs and onto the platform.

Meanwhile, a Local pulled in. With very few people standing around waiting to get on it, we happily boarded a relatively empty car, sat, and pulled away, speeding towards Manhattan, without ever seeing that forlorn Express zooming past us.

I do wonder what happened to the masses at the turnstyles. How could it get so jammed up like that? Did they ever get out? Did they get through before the Express stopped running? Will these kinks get worked out? How many people will come up into the Station, see the mass and ask themselves the same question we did?

Is it really worth all that trouble?

Friday, July 13, 2007

Hello Goodbye


The Mets Midseason Makeover continued late Thursday afternoon when, mercifully, Julio Franco was Designated for Assignment and Lastings Milledge was recalled. I'll admit I was a little surprised by the move, but I can't imagine anyone was especially upset by it, especially given that the only true outfielders existing on the Mets roster were Beltran, Green and Ricky Ledee (and I wasn't looking forward to seeing David Newhan in left).

It was a half-Ballclub appearance at Shea last night, for Milledge's return, a taut, albeit rather unexciting, 3-2 win against a miserable Cincinnati Reds team led by wiry righthander Bronson "Don't call me Brandon" Arroyo and a melange of relief pitchers you've never heard of (Marcus McBeth? Jon Coutlangus? Jared Burton? I half expected them to trot Josias Manzanillo in). Yes, we were treated to a bit of history with Reyes and Gotay kicking things off with back-to-back HRs (and the first time in 46 seasons that the Mets have had leadoff Back-to-back HRs), but it was Milledge who provided the thrill of the night. After he was robbed by Encarnacion after scorching a liner to 3rd in his first AB, Milledge led off the 5th with another frozen rope to right for his first hit of the season. He nearly got picked off by Arroyo, but after El Duque tried to throw his bat at the ball on a sacrifice attempt and Reyes flied to left, Milledge was still on first, but running as Gotay hit a sinking liner to center. Ryan Freel (Gin blossom drunk) dove for the ball, but only trapped it, then rolled over it, although to anyone watching, you couldn't tell whether or not he'd caught the ball until he'd fully tumbled. But it didn't matter. Milledge was running full bore, around third, as Freel uncorked a rather wimpy throw home that seemed to arrive just in time, but Milledge just snuck his hand around David Ross (and his .194 BA)'s tag, scoring what would be the winning run of the game.

Instant impact and a spark. Sometimes it's the little changes that make the difference. And a hell of a lot better than showing up for Ricky Ledee in left.

Other notes: Mike Stanton (affectionately referred to as "Dumpty" by a Yankee fan College colleague of El Guapo and myself, a companion to Jeff Nelson's "Humpty," the Yankee bullpen combo of a bygone era) entered into the game in the 8th, and was neither accompanied by his reactionary right-wing country music nor a giant American flag on the scoreboard, nor was he announced into the game by PA man Alex Anthony. Perhaps because of the warm reception he would undoubtedly have received. Most people didn't seem to realize he was in the game, perhaps because outside of him and Weathers, you wouldn't have any idea who any of the Reds relievers were.

Of larger importance, mostly to us Subway riding Mets fans living in Western Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan, we all have reason to rejoyce! Finally, FINALLY, the MTA has relented to the complaints of riders and added Express service to Manhattan on the 7 train after the game. This is wonderful, ground-breaking news that deserves special mention and mild celebration. Yes, it is only for one hour after the game, and yes, it will be crowded. But it is a 15 minute ride from Grand Central to Shea, and I am looking forward to my ride home on the Subway of Mirth to be much shorter from here on out.

Now, will this continue once Citi Field opens? This, we shall see...

Thursday, July 12, 2007

You Have to Keep Running

As you may have heard by now, hitting coach Rick Down has gotten the axe, to be replaced by none other than Rickey Henderson. No offense to Down, who seems like an affable guy, but I couldn't be more delighted that Rickey will be in the dugout. I know many Mets fans will balk at the notion that the guy who played cards with Bobby Bonilla in the dugout while Rome burned, who got released after a spectacular failure to hustle, and (ironically, given his new job title) who didn't now who hitting coach Tom Robson was until Robson got fired (all three events neatly recounted by Faith and Fear this morning) is coming back to the Mets as a coach, but I love it. First of all, this isn't really his return to the Mets. He's worked with Jose Reyes and others on base-stealing skills in spring training, and he might even have been offered a coaching job sooner but for his Quixotic mission to catch on somewhere as a player.

As for his checkered Mets past, yeah, that was him, but that was the past. And I'm not here to talk about the past. I don't have any idea whether Rickey will make a good hitting coach or not. I don't even know what makes for a good hitting coach. But I do know that Rickey will talk a lot about himself in the third person, and I know that he'll be arriving around the same time as Lastings Milledge makes his return, and the thought of Rickey mentoring Milledge makes me positively giddy. Rickey Henderson mentoring Lastings Milledge! Just imagine that! Never mind hitting coach, I can't think of a better life coach than Rickey. "You have to keep running. I always believed I was going to be safe." That's not just base-stealing advice, that's fucking poetry. That's a blueprint for living. I'm pretty sure I'm not even kidding anymore.

Anyway, welcome back to New York, Rickey. And by the way, we're hitting .268 as a team, which is 6th in the league, and I guess sort of respectable, but I'm pretty sure we haven't gotten a hit with a runner in scoring position since like May, and if we fail to score a runner at third with less than two outs one more time I'm going to burn the stadium down. So, uh, I guess you should try to do something about that.

And to the Mets brass: This is cool and everything, just please don't try to hire Bobby Bonilla.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Halfway to Somewhere

So, it's the All-Star Break. I'd like to say that I'm really excited to watch the game tonight, but, really, I just can't. I'll probably watch the big Hoo-Ha before the game, and maybe a few innings, just to see Reyes and Beltran and Wright, and then tune it out. We all know that the AL Fatboys are going to win again and secure Home Field Advantage in the World Series anyway.

But with the All-Star Break on hand, let's take a look back at the first half of the Season for the Mets. It's been uneven so far. A hot start despite some key players struggling, and then sheer and utter impotence over the last 6 weeks. You could say that the turning point was Alou being placed on the DL, although the problems that are so obvious now really have been evident all season long.

This team hasn't clicked at all. They've been mostly terrible with situational hitting, especially with runners in scoring position. Players are being lauded for making "productive outs" when they should be driving runs in (hear that, Beltran?). The Bullpen has wavered in between marginally solid and downright miserable (except for Wagner). The Starters have been inconsistent, either pitching well with no run support or simply imploding.

And yet, the Mets come to the All-Star break in first place, 48-39, 2 games up on Atlanta. Last year, at this time, the Mets were 53-36, and had a 12 game lead. Only 4 games off of last year's pace. But the teams behind have improved somewhat. And you can only say somewhat, because if either Atlanta or Philadelphia had played well at all over the last 6 weeks, they could have easily passed the Mets.

It's very frustrating watching the team right now, because we know that this team is better than last year. Anything short of going to the World Series will be a failure because we know that the team is capable of getting there. But unless they start to play up to their potential—and right now, there are too many guys who aren't—there's no guarantee that this team will even make the Playoffs. It's something that's too shaky to take for granted right now.

So let's pick on a few guys, shall we?

The Good
1) John Maine
"Hi, my name is John Maine. See, at the beginning of last season, nobody knew who the hell I was, other than some kid ignominiously thrown into a trade with Baltimore for Anna Benson. But last year was a good litmus test to see what I could handle. I learned how to pitch, and to deal with adversity, and I was rewarded with appearances in a couple of the biggest games of the season. Now, I've got confidence and balls, and I'm going to go after you and dominate. I'm going to pitch with a chip on my shoulder this year. I'll start the season on an unconscious pace, slip up a little in May, and then regain my footing as the anchor of this rotation. Sure, laugh all you want, but by July, you'll be looking at me as the Stopper and I'll have won 10 games and people will be screaming about how I was snubbed for the All-Star Game. And I'll deserve to have gone, much moreso than that Friggin' Cole Hamels."

2) Oliver Perez
Another throw in that has surprised everyone. Yes, Perez has been know to throw up a real stinker every now and then, but for the most part, the results we've seen from Ollie have been very good, especially in big spots. 3 wins this season against Atlanta. 2 wins against the Yankees. A near shutout against the Brewers. But he's shown that he is better than simply a wild, inconsistent lefty who can't be counted on. Early on, he had been alternating good starts with bad starts, but he gained some consistency in May, and was really carrying the rotation for a while, as Glavine and Maine were struggling. And the Mets could have used him over the past couple of weeks in Colorado and Houston, I'm sure, as opposed to guys like Vargas and Williams. Plus whenever he starts, the entire team leaps over the foul line as they run onto the field at the beginning of the game, so he's also good for team unity. And he gave me the peace sign at a game last month. We need Perez back and healthy in the second half to have that fighter's chance. Right now, he could be a hell of a #4 starter for a Postseason run.

3) Billy Wagner
Pitch to Contact. Wagner has done this well so far during the season, and the results have spoken for themselves. Were it not for a Pat Burrell HR in June, Wagner would be perfect in save chances this season. He's also racked up his fair share of strikeouts as well. The only trustworthy arm in the bullpen. Keep it up.

4) Ruben Gotay
I got called out for omitting Gotay from my capsule on Jose Valentin in Spring Training. Gotay has made me eat my words by coming up and hitting over .300 with some pop in a reserve role. I'll stand by my assessment that Gotay won't be an everyday answer at second base, even though Valentin has been terrible and many people are clamoring for Gotay to make the starts everyday, but this is because, much like Endy Chavez, Gotay will become exposed as an everyday player. He's a nice role player and spot starter, but he proved 2 years ago with KC that he's not an everyday player. In 2004, he was passable, .270/.315/.375, but miserable in 2005, .227/.288/.344 before being sent back to the minors. Keep him around because he'll be one of those guys that always does something, but don't wear him down.

Others that were good, but don't need to be examined: Jose Reyes, Orlando Hernandez, Endy Chavez (before he got hurt), Jorge Sosa (surprised the hell out of everyone), Pedro Feliciano.

The Somewhat Good
1) David Wright
Yes, this is just the kind of picture I like to see. Wright at an All-Star Playboy Party. Well, I've already made enough about Wright's off-the-field exploits this season, but what about on the field? He had a completely miserable April, where he barely hit at all, and then finally pulled himself out of it somewhat in May, and got hot again at the end of June. But he's been uneven overall, although his numbers are still respectable (.316, 20HR, 74RBI at this time last year, .292, 16HR, 51 RBI now), but he hasn't gone on quite the tear that we saw out of him early on last season. I think he's got it in him. But he's got to get hot and stay hot.

2) Carlos Beltran
I know, I know. Beltran is and always has been a streaky player. But this year, it seems as though his streaks have been too far apart. He hasn't had one of those ridiculous weeks like he seemed to have frequently last season. And as you noticed before, I called him out as being one of the main culprits of the bad situational hitting the Mets have exhibited. I don't know how many times the Mets have had Reyes on 3rd with 1 out, and Beltran has swung at the first pitch and popped out to the Shortstop, or just struck out. Or there has been a runner on second and Beltran has grounded out and moved the runner over. Sure, you can use the "productive out" defense, but the Mets aren't paying Beltran all this money to make productive outs. We're paying him to get productive hits that drive in runs. He only drove in 117 last season. Right now, he looks like the lost Beltran of 2005 rather than the unstoppable one of 2006. We know what he's capable of doing, and yet it seems like he's lost half the time.

3) Shawn Green
Green has had his moments this season, and he surprised the heck out of everyone with his raging hot start. It looked, however briefly, like he was becoming the Shawn Green of old, with less power, but still able to hit with some authority. Then he got hurt, and now he's back to the Shawn Green that looks cooked. It was fortunate that he hit when he did, since at that point, Wright and Delgado were slumping, and he prevented the team from coming apart completely. But another hot streak like he exhibited early on would certainly be helpful, otherwise, he is worth little more than a stopgap filler until either a trade is made or a Milledge or a Gomez ascends and is ready to play full time.

Others who were so-so: Carlos Gomez (Was starting to find himself before he got hurt— still concerned about his OF defense and ability to hit in the clutch), Moises Alou (Good before he was hurt, team may be missing him more than we realize), Paul LoDuca (Should have stayed in the #2 spot all season), Tom Glavine (Like El Duque last season, either very good or embarrassingly bad), Joe Smith (Flashes of brilliance, flashes of youth), Damion Easley (another heady guy off the bench, but probably should be platooning with Gotay at 2B), Aaron Sele (in all honesty, he could have been a lot worse. I mean, for crying out loud, it's Aaron Freakin' Sele).

The Bad and The Worse
1) Scott Schoeneweis
Do I really have to explain this?

2) Jose Valentin
Before his injury, Jose was sort of passable, kind of on the pace he was on last season. Since his injury, he's had nothing. He has failed to even come remotely close to the contributions he made to the Mets last season. His defense is compromised by a knee injury that limits his mobility. He's flailing away at pitches he used to hit. Now, his starts are greeted with moans and groans. It was a risk to bring him back, as opposed to someone younger, this season, and this is why he was one of our 5 Key Mets. And he is one who has completely bombed out and made us look foolish. We don't like to look foolish here.

3) Carlos Delgado
Well, we know that he's not completely cooked. He has had too many big hits this season for us to think that he is. But his hits have come few and far between, and just when it looks like he is turning the corner, he goes 0 for 16 and he's back in a slump again. Like Beltran, too many "productive outs" and not enough productive hits. Now, this is not unfounded for Delgado. He's done this before, as recently as 2004, where he has had a miserable first half and a great second half. But he's probably the biggest key to the rest of the Mets season right now, because if he hits, and hits well and with consistency, the Mets will succeed. And I don't mean sprinkling HRs here and there, I mean hit, and hit with authority like we know he is capable of.

4) Mike Pelfrey
Pelfrey has started to get better start by start, and he's not getting routinely hammered every time out, but 0-7 is 0-7 and as such is not acceptable for a starting pitcher on a contending team. Even less so for a top prospect who has shown that he can dominate, as he did in Spring Training. He needs more seasoning, and he needs to come up and not pitch with the deer in the headlights look on his face, and not to pout and panic when he gets into jams. John Maine did this last season, but he worked through his problems and had thrived. I am not totally sure that Pelfrey has Maine's insides. I still think he'll be a good one, but he has yet to display that on the Major League level.

Others who were Bad or Worse: Guillermo Mota, Julio Franco, David Newhan, Chan Ho Park, Dave Williams, Ambiorix Burgos, Jason Vargas.

Others who were not mentioned (Milledge, Heilman, et al) are not forgotten, but need to shape up a little bit. There's a lot of baseball left to be played this season, but the Mets have a lot of improvements to do, whether it be internal improvements, or if a trade is to be made, but they are in no way guaranteed to walk away with things as they did last season. It's going to be a long, tough road.

Enjoy the All-Star Game, folks!

Sunday, July 8, 2007

I'd Love a Frito, Keith


You know it's been a long game when you hear exchanges like this:

Gary: Not to get ahead of myself, but the last time the Mets played into the 18th inning was that famous July 4th game. They haven't gone longer than 17 inning since.

Keith: Want a Frito?

It was that kind of game. Pretty soon, we were being treated to shots of Keith with towels draped over his head (courtesy of the attractive bespectacled blonde Stage Manager), feeding Fritos to stuffed animals, and several peeks at the Giant Cow billboard that appears to be draped over a foul pole at Juicy Juice Park before the Mets finally closed out this ridiculously extended game as Wagner was able to retire Mark "Get Back" Loretta for the final out. Just barely.

But let's look a little closer, since it is quite rare that the Mets play 17 innings. In fact, the last time this happened was September 29th, 1993 (and I know I'm breaking my promise to never mention 1993 again), in a game that saw Bobby Jones pitch 10 shutout innings.

Let's give some credit to the Bullpen, who broke out of their recent funk and threw 10 shutout innings. Heilman, Joe Smith, Feliciano, Mota, Sele, even Schoeneweis for once came in and got key outs. Got out of jams and kept the game going. And worked long too. Heilman threw 1.2 innings before Feliciano came in to strike out Berkman in the 9th. Mota worked 2 innings. Schoeneweis came in for the 12th and didn't blow it. Joe Smith relieved Schoeneweis and got through 2.1 innings. Sele worked 2 shutout innings. Wagner warmed up about 7 times before finally getting in in the last of the 17th and closing out the game.

And it was a small miracle that the Mets were able to muster the offense to win the game. The defense was there all night, featuring Beltran stealing the show, first by making a leaping grab of a near-HR off the bat of Lee in the 11th, and then doing his best Endy impersonation in the 14th, making the Kate Bush catch, Running Up That Hill to rob Luke Scott of a sure game-winning hit, running full tilt, making the catch and then tumbling to the ground, rather than falling flat on his face as most unsuspecting outfielders have in the past. Then in the 15th, with 2 on and 1 out, Sele gets the ground ball just perfectly to Wright, on the bag at 3rd for the easy DP.

The Mets offense was pretty impotent most of the evening, striking out 16 times, and stranding 13 men, 9 after they had tied the game in the 7th inning. 17 hits and 15 were singles. But yet they made their last 3 hits count the most, after Brian Moehler (who for some reason is still in the league) walked Reyes, Gotay managed to punch one, a perfect non-hit-and-run hit-and-run play, into the vacated hole as Reyes broke for second and went to 3rd, and Beltran finally coming up with the big hit that has eluded him pretty much all season long, driving home the lead run, and Wright following with the insurance run.

I'm exhausted, and I didn't even turn the game on until the 14th inning. Who knew? Thank God it's only July. If this game had been in October, I probably would have had a heart attack about 4 times over. The Mets should have won this game about 6 times and could have just as easily lost it another 6 times. But you can't not feel good about a win like this, especially considering how much of a must-win game this really was, given all the bad vibes and the Reyes-Bashing going around following Friday night's debacle. Take this game and run with it, and maybe in a month we can look back and say that this was the turning point.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Thursday, July 5, 2007

"Mets In Trouble..."

Int. Living Room, Day.

GROVER stands over his Answering Machine.

(Machine Beeps)

GROVER'S DAD: Grover, I need to know if you're gonna stay in my apartment. Otherwise, I'll rent it. Call me.

(Pause)

Knicks In Trouble...

-From the film "Kicking And Screaming."
(I mean the good Kicking and Screaming, not the Will Ferrell Abomination.)

Grover's Dad's concern about the Knicks could just as easily translate to the Mets right now. If you missed last night's game because you were out watching fireworks, well, you probably did better watching the fireworks in the middle of the torrential downpour that swept through the New York Metro area. After one more miserable loss in Colorado, and one more total implosion by the pitching staff, and one more game where I had to listen to Gary Cohen and Tom McCarthy talk about Pop Rocks, Fireworks and Bagels, I'm just about at my wits end.

Just look at these numbers from the last few days:

El Duque: 4IP, 6H, 6R, 5ER, 6BB, 2K, 106 pitches
Mota: .2IP, 6H, 6R, 6ER, 0BB, 1K, 43 pitches
Feliciano: 1IP, 3H, 3R, 3ER, 2BB, 1K
Vargas: 3.1IP, 11H, 9ER, 2BB, 2K
Schoeneweis: Who cares, we all know he sucks.

Beltran: 1-11, 2RBI
Delgado: 3-12, 3RBI
Reyes: 2-13, 3R

I know that when the Mets and Rockies faced each other in April, I noted to El Guapo that their lineup really wasn't as bad as it seemed, and maybe they could surprise if they got their act together. And they did for a while, and then they didn't , and it looks like the Mets were just what they needed to get them going again. It was appropriate that the Mets looked to be in a Fog on the night they faced a pitcher named Fogg. I'm not sure what this team needs first, a dependable arm in the bullpen or a guy who can get a hit with a runner in scoring position. I've been going bonkers about this pretty much all season long, about the miserable situational hitting that this team has exhibited, and once again, it's come back to bite the Mets in the ass and really cut the legs out from under them when it looked like they were breaking out of their early-June funk. But for as good as they looked against Oakland, St. Louis and in Philly, they've managed to look twice as bad in Colorado. Yes, it helps that the rest of the division has shit the bed just as badly over the last few weeks, but how long can you manage to tread water and luck out because Philly and Atlanta happen to lose on the same night.

We're off to another hitter's paradise, Enron Astros The Astrodome Mike Scott Minute Maid Park for the weekend series. You know, that stadium with the 300' Jeff Bagwell porch down the left field line, and the cute little Choo-Choo Train, and the chicken wire outfield fence that nearly killed Beltran last season, and the ridiculous hill in Center Field that's there for no particular reason, and their hotshot rookie Hunter Pence who seems to be the only redeeming feature for an Astros team that has muddled through the first few months of the season. Meanwhile, the Mets are looking at seeing Sandy Alomar, Jr. behind the plate at some point over the weekend.

Of course, this all is pointing to a recipe for instant doom for the Mets. At this point, it wouldn't surprise me if Reyes tripled 4 times in a game, followed by Beltran striking out each time following him, and then came back and hit 4 HRs with the bases empty the next night. John Maine could throw 9 shutout innings tomorrow night and lose because Schoeneweis balked while warming up in the bullpen. Barney Rubble could show up and play first base. Takeru Kobayashi could come in and throw shutout relief for 3 innings, then get called out because he attempted to bat with a hot dog. It's almost reminiscent of the days when Todd Zeile used to hit into double plays with the bases empty. Losing 3 of 4 in Houston wouldn't surprise me. Then again, winning 3 of 4 in Houston wouldn't surprise me. Nothing surprises me anymore.

Or maybe the Mets have finally pushed me off the deep end...

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

TAKE YOUR HAT OFF!!!


Happy 4th of July everyone! Remember to stay proud and stay out of the Aisles during the playing of our National Anthem. God Bless America!

In much more pressing matters, the Mets have gone into the hitters haven that is Coors Field and simply gone back into the tank. Against a pair of none-too-spectacular starting pitchers, the Mets have mustered a whopping 5 runs in two games, and have barely made a peep with runners in scoring position. Meanwhile, on the other side, the pitching hasn't exactly been lights out either. Glavine was burned by a miserable third inning on Monday. Tuesday, Jason Vargas, recalled in place of the Disabled Oliver Perez was nothing short of atrocious. This, combined with his first start against Chicago in May just fills me with loads of confidence about his future with the team. Here's one note for him: When you are raised up from AAA to the Majors, it's a good idea to raise the intensity of your game as well. Major League hitters tend to destroy straight, 86MPH fastballs.

I suppose I could say more about the last two nights, but really, I don't think more needs to be said, and I'd much rather spare myself the aggravation (and I'm sure you would prefer to be spared as well).

So, the Mets will celebrate the 4th of July by hopefully setting off some fireworks of their own tonight against yet another paltry Rockies pitcher, Josh Fogg, but given the way the first two games of this series have gone, one can't be too sure.

Truth is, this is where the real action will be today. Will Takeru Kobayashi be able to defend his crown (and word is he is suffering from a jaw ailment)? Or will the upstart Joey Chestnut knock him from his lofty perch? I think Kobayashi is playing possum, so my money's on him to defend his title. Or will someone simply explode before the 12 minutes are up? The Gastrointestinal madness will unfold today on Coney Island!

(That is, what's left of Coney Island...)

It's a beautiful sight, and a tasty meal to boot. But two's my limit. 54 is beyond my realm.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Lost Classics: July 4, 1999

With tomorrow being the 4th of July, and the Mets having played many games on the Anniversary of our Nation's Independence, I thought it proper to re-visit one such game that the Mets played on this date. Although there are some other likely, worthy candidates for a July 4th Lost Classic, I arrived at one from July 4th, 1999, a Sunday Night, Glitzy ESPN matchup between the Mets and the hated Atlanta Braves, in what would be a harbinger for events that would take place mere few months later.

On July 4th, 1999, the Mets stood at 45-36, 4 games behind said Braves for 1st place. The Mets are on a tear right now. Just one month ago, the Mets were mired in a miserable losing streak, and heads were rolling as the Mets fell to 27-28. Since then, the Mets are on an 18-8 streak, one that will eventually run to a 40-15 mark that will send the Mets surging towards their first playoff appearance in 11 seasons.

But on this steamy Independence Day night, the Braves are in town for the finale of a three-game series in which they have managed to not only win the first two games, but shut out and thoroughly embarrass the Mets by scores of 16-0 and 3-0. So, not only are the Mets trying not to get swept, they're playing for their pride here tonight as they send Orel Hershiser to the mound against John Smoltz. And neither starter will fare especially well on this night. Hershiser will surrender back-to-back Home Runs to Bret Boone (on the juice) and Larry to stake the Braves to a 2-0 lead.

(Note: Although Larry will always be Larry, This game technically took place before he became the hated Larry, following his "Mets fans can go home and put their Yankees shit on" quote in September, which sentenced him to eternal damnation within the confines of Shea Stadium.)

But the Mets will fire right back against Smoltz in their half of the first. Rickey Henderson will lead off by dunking a single down the right field line. Alfonzo will follow with a walk, and Olerud will single to left, loading the bases for Mike Piazza. And Piazza, who is in the midst of one of his signature seasons, will promptly rip a single to center to score Henderson and Alfonzo to tie the game. One out later, Benny Agbayani will score Olerud on a groundout to second, and the Mets have come right back to take a 3-2 lead.

In the second, the Mets will extend their lead as Henderson singled with 2 out, and Alfonzo followed by cracking a long double off the wall in Center Field, over the head of Andro Jones, scoring Henderson to give the Mets a 4-2 lead.

Won't last.

In the 3rd, Hershiser melts down. Boone leads off with his second HR of the game. Larry walks, and Brian Jordan singles to move him over to 3rd. Ryan Klesko follows by lofting a Sacrifice Fly to Cedeno in Center, scoring Larry to tie the game. Hershiser manages to strike out Andro Jones for the second out, but his first pitch to the next batter, Randall Simon (that would be "Fat Monkey" to all who don't remember) is a fat fastball that Simon rips into the Mets bullpen. End of lead, End of Hershiser's night. 6-4 Atlanta.

But tonight is a night for the Mets bullpen to shine. First, Pat Mahomes, who will become an unsung hero for the Mets all season long, will come in and get out of the inning, and pitch a perfect inning in the 4th. He's followed by Rigo Beltran, who will become a forgotten man before too long, but tonight he's good for 1 hit over 2 innings. Greg McMichael, who was traded away and then traded back during the 1998 season, will work himself into a bases-loaded jam in the 7th before Dennis Cook gets him out of it.

But on the other side, Smoltz has settled down and the Mets have barely made a peep against him since the second inning. Meanwhile, in what seems like another world, the Macy's Fireworks are going off along the East River, lost to the 32,699 in attendance at Shea, but visible to me from my perch at Ballclub HQ, Bronx Bureau. Some night.

In the 7th, Rey Ordonez leads off with a single, his second hit of the night. Brian McRae, who had been double-switched into the game in the top half of the inning, will follow with a walk. Henderson, in a rare display of selflessness, will lay down the sacrifice, moving the tying run to second for Fonzie.

This would be the season that Edgardo Alfonzo would really begin to assert himself as an elite ballplayer. All season long, he will deliver whenever called upon to do so, be it for a clutch hit, a key defensive play or a sacrifice. And on this night, he will do just that, taking a slider from Smoltz and blasting it deep over the Center Field fence, out into the night for a 3-run HR to give the Mets a 7-6 lead.

And now, it was up to the Bullpen to hold that lead. They would be up to the task. In the 8th inning, it would be Dennis Cook, continuing where he left off in the 7th inning, setting down Atlanta in order. In the 9th, it would be Armando Benitez. This would be Benitez's first week as the Mets closer, having taken over as John Franco missed a majority of the season with a finger injury. Benitez had been lights out in a setup role, and for the most part, he will prove to be just as unhittable in the closer's role. At least for now. Whatever struggles Benitez will encounter in his checkered future are unknown to us on this night, as his fastball is blazing, and the Braves cannot touch him. Boone will strike out swinging. Larry will watch strike 3. Brian Jordan will flail helplessly. And the Mets have come back, beaten the Braves and averted the sweep.

Little do we know that the Mets and the Braves will take things to another level just 3 months later, when tensions, words and ill will will escalate this division rivalry in to an All-Out War that will play out in an operatic fashion in an Epic NLCS. This game in July will seem like Eons ago by time that series comes to its conclusion.

But let's not forget this game, instrumental as it was in getting the Mets to that point, because as we will soon find out, the Mets will need every last win they can get in this 1999 season.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Gettin' Silly with the Philly

It was a nice weekend for the Mets in Philly. Of course, I would have preferred that they win on Sunday to cap off the revenge sweep and kick the Phillies in the nuts at the same time, but winning 3 of 4 is just as acceptable. It is nice, overall, to see the team finally put a nice little streak together after the struggles of early June. I'm not going to officially say "They're Back," but they're pretty close.

So, for some quick hits and observations from the weekend...

Gamesmanship
Philly seems to have some sort of bizarre chip on its shoulder, has anyone noticed that? Starting from the first inning of the first game on Friday, it seemed like the Phillies were doing everything they could to somehow get in the Mets heads. First, it's Manuel checking the rosin on El Duque's hat. Then Hamels was jamming Reyes high and in. But it didn't seem to work at all. It's almost as if the Phillies seemed to think they could somehow bully the Mets into losing. But after sweeping the Mets in New York, you knew the Mets were going to be fired up, and not much was going to distract them. In fact, just about everything Philly tried ended up backfiring. El Duque got pissed off (someone on the Mets noted that "He was stomping around, yelling in 'El Duque-speak'") and subsequently pitched great, Reyes was on base. LoDuca and Beltran hit homers, and Philly only managed to eke out the last game because Heilman imploded in the 7th inning on Sunday. But trying to pull the stuff that Manuel and the Phillies tried to pull was a dangerous game to be playing with a team that looks ready to go on a run, and it certainly didn't gain the Phillies an inch.

Speaking of a Rampage...
With 2 HRs in the nightcap on Friday and 2 more on Saturday, it looks as if Beltran is about ready to go on another of his ridiculous hot streaks. And it's about damn time. We all know that Beltran had been playing hurt, and his struggles at the plate certainly didn't acquit him of anything. He needed to sit, maybe go on the DL. But he didn't. And now he appears to be healthy again and with the Mets going to Colorado and Houston this week, one of those sick, .450/.520/.745, 5HR, 14RBI weeks could be on the horizon for Mr. Beltran.

Also pretty hot of late has been Paul LoDuca. It seems like Paulie has flipped the power switch ever since his blowup last Saturday against Oakland, and even moreso after his blowup to the press on Thursday night. LoDuca's 5 HRs this season have already matched his season total from last year, and 2 of them have come in the past week. Plus, he was snubbed for the All-Star game (although, admittedly, both Martin and McCann are more worthy candidates) and perhaps that will serve to fire up Paul even further. Then there's that suspension hearing...

All-Star Snubs?
I know, I know, nobody really cares about the All-Star game, although I do find it fun to watch for about 3 or 4 innings, once they get through the Ceremonial Crotch-Grabbing that seems to take longer than the game itself. Beltran, Wright and Reyes were naturally voted in, and considering that the balloting process is basically a popularity contest (although kudos go to the fans who voted in Prince Fielder over Poo-Holes), I'm not too surprised. You could make the case that Miguel Cabrera may have been more deserving than Wright or that Rollins or J.J. Hardy were having better years than Reyes, but that's not to denigrate either of them. They're there and they absolutely deserve to be there.

Wagner also made the team, and deservedly so, considering how good he's been this season. But if there was one player on the Mets who was outright snubbed for the All-Star team, it was John Maine. Pitchers like Penny, Peavy, Sheets and Smoltz are all worthy and all deserving of an All-Star selection. But the one argument, and it's a good one, is whether or not Cole Hamels should have made the team over Maine. Now, we've seen these two match up more than once this season. The first time, at Shea, at the Home Opener, neither pitcher threw especially great and neither got a decision. The second time, last Friday night, Maine clearly outpitched Hamels, throwing into the 9th inning in a solid Mets victory. Right now, Hamels stands at 9-4, with a 3.87 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 116 strikeouts in 111.2 IP, for a third place team that has been up and down all season. Maine holds an identical record of 9-4, with an ERA of 2.74, a WHIP of 1.15 and 84 Ks in 102 IP. And Maine also won a Pitcher of the Month award for his unconscious April, and the Mets have been in first place pretty much all season. But Hamels has the reputation of being the ace on the team he pitches for. Maine has only been counted on to be a #3 starter on the Mets, although at times, he has pitched like an ace. Maine holds better numbers pretty much across the board. I wouldn't go so far as to say Hamels is a bad choice, but it's clear that Maine has been the better pitcher to this point in the season. Then again, Maine is scheduled to pitch the first game after the All-Star Break, so perhaps it's better to let him rest and rejuvenate for the second half of the season.

All the Eggs in the World can't Fix him...
Finally, we have the case of Julio Franco and his fully organic diet of 37 egg whites a day, and he can still barely make it up the first base line on the last out of Sunday's game. It's getting to the point now where it's like he is just a black hole on the bench. Putting him up at the plate is tantamount to resignation. It's obvious that he's done, and I know he's a leader on the team and a sage for the younger players, but he's a waste of a roster space. I wouldn't want to be in a key spot in the postseason and see Julio coming up. Especially with 2 outs. I'm sure it would not happen, but it is worth the consideration to think about offering him a Bench Coach position and just sort of fade him out slowly but surely as the season wears on.

Happy Anniversary To...
Sunday was the 20th Anniversary of WFAN, who has carried the Mets games on the radio ever since their inception in 1987. We can thank them for creating the monster that is the Sports Talk Radio industry in America.

So, Colorado and Houston this week. Time to break out the bats.